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Scouting Report: What you have to know about Patriots-Cardinals 09.10.16 at 1:43 pm ET
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Sunday will mark Jimmy Garoppolo's first start as a professional. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Sunday will mark Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start as a professional. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Here’s everything you need to know when it comes to Sunday’s regular-season opener for the Patriots and Cardinals in Arizona:

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

When it comes to the ground game, New England is coming off a woeful finish to 2015 that saw them finish with just 87.8 rushing yards per contest, 30th in the league. Injuries to LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis left the Patriots relying on Steven Jackson and James White down the stretch and into the playoffs; in hindsight, it was easy to see why the offense stalled the way it did in Denver. Lewis is still on the shelf (look for White to at least try and replicate Lewis’ impact), but the majority of work will fall to Blount. The 29-year-old, still a 6-foot-1, 245-pound bulldozer, is what he is at this stage of his career — a big back who should be trusted to carry the ball 15-22 times a game and hit that 4 yards per carry average fairly consistently. From this viewpoint, he’s still without peer when it comes to the four-minute offense. We’ve referenced this before, but it still bears repeating; per Football Outsiders, Blount rushed 87 times for 406 yards (4.7 yards per carry) when the score margin was greater than 15 points and 78 times for 297 yards (3.9 yards per carry) when the score was closer. If the Pats get into a similar situation on Sunday, it’s all Blount down the stretch.

On the other side of the ball, for a team that plays so much dime/sub, Arizona has help up relatively well against the run: The Cardinals were sixth against the run last year (91.3 rushing yards per game) and ninth when it came to yards per carry allowed (3.9). But good teams have found a way to exploit their occasionally suspect run defense. In the last 10 games of the 2015 season — including the playoffs — the Cardinals allowed 100 or more yards rushing five times, and in a sixth game they allowed 99 yards on the ground. In their last three games (one regular-season contest and two playoff games), Arizona allowed an average of 144 rushing yards per game, including 152 in the NFC title game against the Panthers. We’re not saying the Patriots have a shot at 150 on Sunday night. Just that Blount could get a surprisingly high number of carries on some power runs with fullback James Develin and a two-tight end set with Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor or AJ Derby. That’s all.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

And now, we step into the great unknown with Jimmy Garoppolo. Well, maybe not the great unknown, but with Garoppolo getting the start for these first four games, we’ll finally get a sense of where he is in his overall development. The kid had his positives and negatives over the summer, looking like he took a step back in Week Three after two good games to open the preseason. Regardless, based on what we’ve seen to this point, expect the Patriots to lean on short and intermediate routes with the likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Bennett. While he could speed things up a bit, Garoppolo will likely try and play it conservatively with checkdowns to backs, tight ends and quick outs to receivers. The bottom line? Garoppolo needs to get the ball out quickly and efficiently for a few reasons, including the fact that the offensive line remains in a statement of flux and the Patriots can’t afford to let pressure be an issue.

Chances are good that a large part of that pressure will come from old friend Chandler Jones, who has already impressed his mates to the point where they believe a 20-sack season is in reach. (It’s worth noting that when it comes to sacks, Jones’ most productive month is September.) Jones will be looking to cut down on cover time for the Arizona coverage defenders, some of the best in the league. Cornerback Patrick Peterson, safety Tyrann Mathieu and hybrid Deone Bucannon are some of the best in the league at what they do. The biggest opportunity in the passing game for the Patriots might come when Garoppolo tries to target Brandon Williams, a converted college running back expected to start at cornerback opposite Peterson. The 23-year-old Williams has yet to take a regular-season snap in the NFL.

One more thing, as it relates to Garoppolo. We have really no way of measuring this, but it certainly looked like the Patriots ran more plays this summer (in training camp and preseason) designed to get him on the run; rollouts, bootlegs, whatever, where they have him use his legs and (maybe) try and minimize some sketchy offensive line play at the same time. They got him on the run and created some movable pocket situations. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was impressed with Garoppolo’s speed. It’s something to watch for Sunday.

WHEN THE CARDINALS RUN THE BALL

The 6-foot-1, 224-pound David Johnson might be the most multidimensional threat the Patriots face all season long. The 24-year-old out of Northern Iowa is coming off a rookie year where he rushed for 125 carries for 581 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns, and figures to move into the every-down role this year, supplanting veteran Chris Johnson. (The older Johnson led urge Cardinals in rushing last season with 196 carries for 814 yards and three touchdowns.) The Patriots were ninth against the run last year, having yielded an average of 98.8 rushing yards per game, and were 11th in yards per carry allowed at 4.0.

WHEN THE CARDINALS PASS THE BALL

Arizona will feature one of the deepest passing attacks the Patriots will face all season. The Cardinals were one of just two teams last season to have three players finish the year with 800 or more receiving yards (New Orleans was the other). According to Football Outsiders, for eight straight years Arizona has ranked either first or second in the league in the percentage of plays with four or more wide receivers. Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer likes to chuck it, whether it’s to Larry Fitzgerald (career-best 109 catches for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns last year), John Brown (65 catches for 1,003 yards seven touchdowns last year) or Michael Floyd (52 catches for 849 yards and six touchdowns in 2015). And then, there’s Johnson (36 catches, 457 yards 4 TDs last year). As for the Patriots, if you have a combination of Malcolm Butler (with help) on Fitzgerald and Jamie Collins eyeing Johnson out of the backfield, that puts some added pressure on the likes of Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones and one of your safeties when it comes to coverage. If the preseason is any indication, the New England secondary is up to the challenge — the Patriots were tied for second in the league in interceptions in the preseason with seven.

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Read More: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, David Johnson
5 things you have to know about the Cardinals: Arizona looks to take next step toward greatness in 2016 09.05.16 at 12:24 pm ET
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Arizona's Carson Palmer is at the controls of one of the best offenses in the NFC. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Carson Palmer led the Cardinals to the NFC title game last season. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Five things you have to know about the Cardinals, who will host the Patriots in the regular-season opener for both teams Sunday night in Arizona.

1. When everyone is healthy, their passing game is really deep.

The Cardinals were one of just two teams last season to have three players finish the year with 800 or more receiving yards (New Orleans was the other). According to Football Outsiders, for eight straight years Arizona has ranked either first or second in the league in the percentage of plays with four or more wide receivers. Bottom line? Carson Palmer is going to test the depth of the New England secondary right out of the gate. Palmer was in the top five of most major passing categories last year, including total passing yards (4,671, fourth), touchdowns (35, tied for second), yards per game (292, fifth) and passer rating (104.6, third). He’s a big, strong pocket presence.

”Carson’s definitely willing to stand in there and deliver the ball under pressure and wait until the last second to get rid of it,” Bill Belichick said of the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Palmer on Monday. “He’s a big, strong guy. He’s big for a quarterback and has a good frame. I’m not saying any quarterback wants to get hit a lot, but there’s some guys that can absorb more of those than others. He’s not as big as (Ben) Roethlisberger, but he’s a big quarterback.”

Everyone knows about the greatness of Larry Fitzgerald, and the undoubted first-ballot Hall of Famer still is Arizona’s first option in the passing game. He’s coming off one of the finest years of his career (career-best 109 catches for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns) and undoubtedly will face Malcolm Butler for much of the evening. John Brown and Michael Floyd are as good as there is as No. 2 and 3 options. Brown is a 5-foot-11, 195-pound scooter who had 65 catches for 1,003 yards seven touchdowns last year, while Floyd’s size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) makes him an intriguing target for Palmer. He had 52 catches for 849 yards and six touchdowns in 2015.

The backs also are utilized as part of the passing game, with David Johnson working as a multidimensional threat. The 6-foot-1, 224-pounder had a dynamite rookie campaign in 2015, finishing with 36 catches for 457 yards and four touchdowns in the passing game.

2. Speaking of David Johnson, he’ll be one of the best multidimensional running backs the Patriots will face this season.

As we’ve already said, Johnson was the best option out of the backfield for one of the best passing teams in the league last year, but he also can bring it when it comes to running the ball, with 125 carries for 581 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. He was second on the team to Chris Johnson, who ended up with 196 carries for 814 yards and three touchdowns, but if the preseason is any indication, David is likely to get more carries than Chris in 2016.

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Read More: 5 things you have to know about, Cardinals, Carson Palmer, Chandler Catanzaro
New teammates believe ex-Patriots DE Chandler Jones can reach 20-sack plateau in 2016 08.01.16 at 11:06 am ET
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His new teammates think Chandler Jones can reach 20 sacks in Arizona in 2016. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

His new teammates think Chandler Jones can reach 20 sacks in Arizona in 2016. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Chandler Jones’ new teammates have set a high bar for the former Patriots’ defensive end.

Jones, dealt by New England to Arizona in the offseason, has the potential for a 20-sack season in 2016, according to Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Tyrann Mathieu.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Peterson told the Arizona Republic. “He has that potential to be a 20-plus sack guy. … He’s in a contract year, too, so I know he’s going to be even that much hungrier.”

“In this division, yeah, he can get 20 sacks,” Mathieu said. “In this division, they rely on their quarterbacks to make plays – i.e. San Francisco and Seattle. I just figure it like this: If (Dwight) Freeney had eight sacks in a backup role, Chandler should probably get 20 in a starting role.”

The 6-foot-5, 247-pound Jones was taken in the first round of the 2012 draft by the Patriots, and had 36 sacks in four seasons in New England, including a career-high 12.5 last year. He was traded by the Patriots to Arizona in the offseason.

For his part, Jones isn’t going on record with a prediction.

“Honestly, I never try to think about that,” Jones said when asked about reaching the 20-sack plateau. “Maybe at midseason I’ll look at the stats, but I never go out to get a certain number. Hopefully, I do better than last year but I never go out each game and say, ‘Hey, I want this many sacks in this game’ or ‘I’m trying to get this many sacks.’

“Honestly, I wish I could sack the quarterback every time they drop back. But it’s not that easy.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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What does Tyrann Mathieu’s visit with the Patriots really mean? 03.29.13 at 9:20 pm ET
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The news that Tyrann Mathieu will have a pre-draft visit with the Patriots on April 5 is certainly interesting. While those visits can be for a number of reasons — a smokescreen to fool other teams, a real indication of interest, or simply a chance to ask some questions that weren’€™t asked at the combine — it got us thinking about the possibility of The Artist Formerly Known As The Honey Badger joining the Patriots.

He certainly has an impressive resume: before he was booted from LSU for repeated violations of its drug policy, Mathieu won the Chuck Bednarik award in 2011 as the best defensive college player in the country and was a Heisman finalist. In all, the 5-foot-9, 176-pounder played two seasons for Louisiana State, and had 133 tackles (93 solo) and four picks in that stretch.

But beyond the name, what does he bring to the table? Like the questions about Marcus Lattimore and his visit with the Patriots, it sparks an interesting debate: Mathieu is a high-profile name and certainly an intriguing story, but when you offer a practical examination of the New England roster, it’s probably not a good fit. While he has displayed some positional versatility in college, Mathieu likely projects as a slot corner in the NFL, and the Patriots recently re-signed Kyle Arrington to fill that role for the foreseeable future. You could shuffle Mathieu around at different spots in the secondary — he might be able to work on the outside for a time and could conceivably be a serviceable backup, but it might be a stretch to consider him an every-down outside corner at this stage of his career.

However, he does offer special teams value — he averaged an impressive 17.2 yards per punt return in 2011, a year that included a pair of returns for touchdowns. While the Patriots signed Leon Washington earlier this month to help bolster an occasionally inconsistent return game, they could also re-sign Julian Edelman, who has experience as a punt returner as well.

In addition, Mathieu will likely be available sometime in the mid- to late-rounds, which could create s situation similar to what happened with Alfonzo Dennard last season. The Nebraska corner was considered an early- to mid-round selection before running into a legal snafu in the days before the draft — he was allegedly involved in a scuffle with a police officer — which was one of the reasons he dropped to the seventh round. In the end, the Patriots found a great addition in Dennard, who became a starting cornerback by the end of the season and had one of the best rookie year’€™s on the team.

With that in mind, you cannot talk about Mathieu without bringing up his history — he was kicked out of LSU last summer after failing his latest drug test, and told the media at the combine that he hasn’€™t smoked pot since Oct. 26. It’€™s certainly worth mentioning that the Patriots have taken their chances on wildly talented college players with character questions as recently as 2011, when they selected quarterback Ryan Mallett out of Arkansas in the third round.

Regardless, he presents several intriguing questions for the Patriots: Could he rebound to his 2011 form and become an impact player in the NFL? And could he manage to keep his demons in check at the professional level — something he addressed when he spoke with the media at the combine?

For his part, he believes the answers to those questions are yes and yes.

‘€œI know what it’€™s like to be humiliated,’€ Mathieu said at the combine last month. ‘€œTo go back down that road, not a chance in this world. Not a chance in my lifetime again.’€

The Patriots aiming to get some answers themselves when they get a chance to meet face-to-face next month.

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Source: Tyrann ‘Honey Badger’ Mathieu will visit with Patriots at 3:31 pm ET
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The Patriots will hold a pre-draft visit with former Louisiana State cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, according to a league source.

Mathieu, formerly known as “The Honey Badger,” won the Chuck Bednarik award in 2011 as the best defensive college player in the country and was a Heisman finalist. However, he was booted from LSU for repeated violations of its drug policy. In all, the 5-foot-9, 176-pounder played two seasons for Louisiana State, and had 133 tackles (93 solo) and four picks in that stretch.

He reportedly has several predraft visits lined up, including one with the Niners.

The news of the visit was first reported by the Boston Herald. For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu 03.27.13 at 12:18 pm ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that might be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2013 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

TYRANN MATHIEU

Position: Cornerback

School: LSU

Height: 5-foot-9

Weight: 186 pounds

Achievements: 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist, 2011 Bednarik Trophy winner, 2011 Walter Camp Award finalist, 2011 All-America first team at cornerback and return specialist, 2010 FWAA Freshman All-America first team

What he brings: Oh, Tyrann, what are we going to do with you?

Here’€™s the thing about the former Heisman candidate from LSU: There’€™s no doubt he was a dominant college player. But, even before he was kicked off the team for repeated drug offenses, there were doubts about whether his skill set would translate to the next level.

The football player formerly known as ‘€œHoney Badger’€ is a great return man, is an excellent blitzer out of the secondary, hits like a much bigger defender and is an overall ball-hawk. However, he also is undersized, lacks elite top-end speed and doesn’€™t have as much experience matching up with tall, elite receivers on the outside. Combining that with the fact that he didn’€™t play football this past season, Mathieu’€™s draft stock certainly has its blemishes. That being said, he’€™s still an intriguing prospect.

Mathieu is not going to be a shutdown corner. That’€™s just not his game. Instead, he’€™s drawn comparisons to the Vikings’€™ undersized Antoine Winfield for his ability to play beyond his limited height. Also, with his ability to blitz, force fumbles and play all across the field, Mathieu’s upside could be similar to how Charles Woodson has looked at the end of his career, albeit with lesser outside cover skills. While Mathieu should, at the very least, manage within the right defensive scheme, he’€™s not going to be the guy teams leave out on an island with the opponent’s top receiving threat.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 3 or 4

Notes: The live performance that NFL scouts have seen from Mathieu in the last year was his performance at the NFL scouting combine. So, unlike most other prospects, his performance there bears a whole lot of weight.

First off, Mathieu’€™s 4.50 40 time helped dispel the idea that he doesn’€™t have the top-end speed to play at the NFL level. Second, he looked great in most of his on-field drills, according to scouts that spoke to the media. Third, Mathieu showed professionalism and remorse in his interactions with the media, passed a surprise 4 a.m. drug screening and apparently did well in interviews. That being said, he only tallied four reps on the bench press. While that isn’€™t good — at all — it isn’t a death sentence for his stock.

Throughout the process, the former LSU star has impressed a number of scouts and media members, with NFL Network’€™s Deion Sanders leading the bandwagon, calling him a ‘€œballer’€ after extended talks with him.

Mathieu’€™s status is somewhat comparable to what Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins went through during the pre-draft process last year en route to a stellar rookie season. Now, Jenkins was more of a prototypical No. 1 corner while Mathieu is projected to do a lot of work in the slot and closer to the box. Still, that won’€™t stop his confidence, as evidenced by his statement about whether or not he could play in that role.

“If I was to check somebody like Calvin Johnson, he’ll make his plays, but I’m going to get mine, too,” Mathieu said at the combine. “He’ll catch his five balls, but I’ll get my two turnovers, so we’ll be even.”

Related articles: USA Today: Tyrann Mathieu to sit out 2012 season and go through drug rehab

New York Times: Ex-Heisman Finalist Hoping for Fresh Start

New Orleans Times-Picayune: Former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu working with Patrick Peterson prior to draft

CBS Sports: NFL Combine: Tyrann Mathieu helps stock in workouts

Video: Here’€™s a playlist of highlights for Mathieu’€™s 2011 season, starting with his game against Arkansas.

Read More: 2013 NFL draft, 2013 Potential Patriots, Tyrann Mathieu,
Damage done for Tyrann Mathieu, so what’s next? 02.24.13 at 12:48 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Tyrann Mathieu was woken up at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning to take a drug test. He passed.

That kind of thing is standard operating procedure at the combine, but the outcome was especially good news for the talented, undersized and highly troubled former LSU cornerback who was dismissed from the football team for repeatedly violating its drug policy.

Mathieu, also known as “Honey Badger,” didn’t play football last season, and his exit from LSU was followed by an arrest for possession of marijuana on Oct. 25. He says he hasn’t smoked since Oct. 26 (puzzling timing), and has since been to rehab. He has a sponsor now, and admitted that he spent more time getting his life back on track over the last several months than worrying about how his time away from the field would hurt his career. He doesn’t know what’s ahead of him, but he promises that his darkest times are behind him.

“I know what it’s like to be humiliated,” he said. “To go back down that road? Not a chance in this world. Not a chance in my lifetime. Every day is process. I’m not saying that I’m totally there, but I am taking strides every day to be the best person that Tyrann can be.”

Mathieu, who won the Chuck Bednarik award in 2011 as the best defensive college player in the country, could have followed in the footsteps of Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne as LSU cornerbacks to go high in the draft. Instead, he’s just hoping he hasn’t been taken off too many draft boards and that he’ll get a chance to resurrect his football career at the next level.

“I think my football skills speak for itself,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve lost a step, but I’m not totally focused on football right now. It’s more about the person and more about getting the things that I’ve done wrong, getting those things corrected.”

Mathieu, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds, probably isn’t on the same level as a guy like Peterson was. Not only does he have less experience, but he’s also a bit of a work in progress. Even with his college production, he’s still got a ways to go in coverage and his speed isn’t overwhelming (he’s hoping to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.4 range, but that might be wishful thinking). In that respect, and considering he’s spent the last year away from football, he should be a bit more of a project than a guy like Tennessee Tech wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, whose issues with marijuana were well-documented, but is polished and played last season after being suspended from Tennessee.

All it takes is one team to Maurice Clarett him (select a troubled player way too early), but it’s tough to project what the draft range is for Mathieu. Maybe he’s a third round pick, maybe he’s undrafted. Given the skillset but work that needs to be done, maybe he winds up like Alfonzo Dennard, a troubled second-round talent who was grabbed by the Patriots in the last round last year. For what it’s worth, Mathieu has not yet met with the Patriots, though their secondary issues and history of overlooking marijuana concerns would make the two a potential fit should they fancy what he brings on the football field.

What he brings on the field isn’t the next Peterson or even the next Claiborne, but he’s highly instinctive with great ball skills. The rest of the package, which includes the speed and footwork, makes him less than a blue-chipper, and the character concerns further cloud the situation.

So the questions are there for Mathieu, and he doesn’t blame teams for having them, saying he “respects and totally understands” teams being skeptical, saying he’s “not totally asking them to trust me right now.”

If they do, Mathieu swears that the paycheck and the limelight won’t let him stray from the sober path he’s taken.

“I know there’s marijuana in the NFL,” Mathieu said. “I know there’s marijuana everywhere you go, but at the end of the day, none of those people are Tyrann Mathieu.”

Read More: 2013 combine, 2013 NFL draft, Tyrann Mathieu,
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